“I Want to Become Immersed in a New Culture.” Brenda Aguilar ’22 Among First Peace Corps Volunteers to Begin Service Again Overseas

The Peace Corps suspended global operations and evacuated volunteers at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Brenda Aguilar ’22 realized she wanted to work with people and learn about different cultures from a young age. Armed with a political science degree and a minor in globalization studies and international relations from Stony Brook University, she knew joining the Peace Corps was the perfect choice for her.

Brenda Aguilar Headshot
Brenda Aguilar will spend 27 months with the Peace Corps. (Photo courtesy of the Peace Corps)

Aguilar is now one of the first Peace Corps volunteers to begin service again overseas. The onset of COVID-19 in March 2020 forced the Corps to halt all global operations and evacuate nearly 7,000 volunteers from more than 60 countries.

As a first-generation American whose parents immigrated from El Salvador, Aguilar is thrilled for the opportunity to teach as part of an English literacy program at an Eastern Caribbean school. When she submitted her application, she had no idea where she would be placed, foregoing the option to select a location on the application.

“I applied with an open mind, and I’ve been very blessed to have been placed in the Eastern Caribbean for education,” says Aguilar.

The alumna says she began considering joining the Peace Corps in high school. In fact, she recalls her parents discussing the Peace Corps volunteers who helped them in their home country of El Salvador.

Brenda Aguilar '22 graduates
Brenda Aguilar celebrates her graduation with her parents. (Photo courtesy of Brenda Aguilar)

As a Stony Brook student, Aguilar had the opportunity to learn even more about the Peace Corps. She was a participant in the JFEW-SUNY Global Affairs Leadership Program, which is funded by the Jewish Foundation for Education of Women. The two-year academic and scholarship program empowers SUNY undergraduate women to become global leaders and pursue careers in international relations and global affairs. She notes that there were monthly seminars with different non-government organizations. One month, a representative from the Peace Corps spoke, and she knew, at last, it was the right path for her.

“I felt like being in the Peace Corps could open my eyes to the world.”

In the end, her faculty advisor at Stony Brook urged her to apply and helped her with the application process.

Aguilar will spend a total of 27 months volunteering. Every Peace Corps volunteer receives three months of training in the language and culture of their assigned country, as well as in their sector. For Aguilar, that will be education. The training will be followed by a swearing-in ceremony and two years of service.

“I’m excited to be immersed in a new culture, meet new people, and live somewhere new. I can’t wait to head into this next adventure with no set expectations,” she says.

After the Peace Corps, Aguilar says she’s interested in a career with the Department of State or possibly attending graduate school. “I want to apply to become a foreign service officer [with the Department of State],” she says. “And then we’ll see where that takes me.”

Brenda Aguilar '22 graduates
Brenda Aguilar celebrates her graduation by the fountain. (Photo courtesy of Brenda Aguilar)

She is confident that the skills and training she receives in the Peace Corps will prepare her for whatever path she takes in her career. “Everyone is always saying how much they want to help people,” she explains.

“If I could help at least one person, it would be satisfying for me.”

For those interested in joining the Peace Corps, the next application deadline is July 1 for departures that begin in early 2024. According to Peace Corps Public Affairs Specialist Erin Curran, Aguilar is one of many Stony Brook alumni to join the Peace Corps. From the start of the Peace Corps in 1961 through the pandemic evacuation in March 2020, there have been 239 alumni volunteers. Curran says there were 16 active Stony Brook volunteers in four different sectors and 11 different posts at the time of the evacuation. Curran adds that Aguilar is among two other Stony Brook alumni who recently accepted invitations to volunteer.

To learn more about the Peace Corps or for information on how to apply, click here.

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